I don’t hate the Eat, Pray, Love movie like many. I’ve been known to watch a “chick travel” movie from time to time. Hell I love Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (I have a crush on America Ferrera). But it can be said that movie presented a very “glamorous” depiction of solo female travel that isn’t necessarily reality. It caters to the nouveau empowered woman. The Oprah drones and faux fembots. You see this is the equivalent of the male midlife crisis on full display. Instead of a hair piece she gets a month stay in an Ashram. Instead of a corvette, she helps poor children in Cambodia. Now this isn’t to say it’s a bad thing, Ashrams are great and so is volunteering, but it is a “thing” and many people are disputing it. When you don’t acknowledge the obvious manipulation from media sources you become part of the problem of mass consumerism and destructive tourism. Often it gives women a false idea of what solo female travel is and what the dangers are (not to mention the finances) and that’s my main concern. So when I decided to write this piece six months ago I decided to read the book as my then girlfriend said the movie was nothing like the book. So I did………FUCK YOU HOLLYWOOD!!!! I’ll get to that a bit later. Traveling introduces you to a wide range of people and experiences. I want to introduce you to someone I met on the road that is a prime example of the “Eat,Pray,Loveification” of western solo female travelers.
I’m sitting in my hostel in Thailand and eventually strike up a conversation with a fellow American. Not sure how the conversation started but it eventually went where all hostel conversations go. Where have you been and where are you going. Now I don’t want to give too much of her personal details out but she left a particularly lucrative career to travel to her first destination…………Italy. So I ask her what’s the next stops. Indonesia and maybe India for meditation school. Well this seems familiar. I say, “Oh, so your taking the Eat,Pray,Love route. Nice”. I’m all for traveling how you want. I said this with absolutely zero judgment. At this point I hadn’t come to the realization of how destructive this is. But this next part threw me off. “What’s that”? She says. She said that she never read the book or seen the movie.
There was no reason for me to think she was a liar. None at all. And why would you lie about something like that? So I chalked it up to a coincidence. Well until we went out later. This woman’s entire life was almost identical to Elizabeth Gilbert. At one point in the evening I asked, are you sure you haven’t seen that movie? She said she hadn’t. Well ok then. For me, the straw was broken the next morning.
That very next morning at breakfast she came down dressed EXACTLY like this. Glasses, hat, everything.
At this point I mercilessly called her out. There is no way in hell you didn’t see that movie and aren’t copying it. I have no idea why it bothered me soooooo much at the time but later realized it was part of the mass media consumption I hate. I showed her that picture and she still denied it. We laugh it off and from that day on I called her “Lizzy” (or Eat, Pray, Love). We would eventually part ways. Me to Argentina and her to save orphans in Indonesia. To this day we chat and trade travel stories. She is a great woman and I still don’t know if she was telling the truth but I know her heart was in the right place with her travels. Unfortunately, the result of Eat, Pray, Love reaches further than a copied outfit and itinerary.
You see Elizabeth Gilbert has taken advantage of solo female travelers by selling them this fantasy world. A world where you can just quit your job and travel the world as an entitled asshole, find spiritual happiness by bastardizing a thousand’s year old religion, and fall in love with the man of your dreams in a rice paddy. The movie never mentions the nice chunk of change she received as a book advance. $200,000. Yes, our precious solo female travel deity was GIVEN $200,000 to write a book that would sell to women. Reality isn’t cool though.
Here’s the reality for solo female travelers. You can’t travel the world and be a complete ass. It will come back on you. Gilbert somehow made it through. I’m sure that nice advance helped not to mention the outstanding places she stayed that tend to cater to this kind of traveler.
Travel is a bit lonely. Hence solo travel. The odds of finding Mr.Right instead of Mr.Right Now are slim. I’m not saying it’s not impossible but you can’t go from the anti-relationship narrative Gilbert pushes right into a Danielle Steele novel filled with long lasting love. It’s unrealistic and I’ve met droves of young and impressionable women that are quick to fall for the first guy that shoots them a nice smile. In no way am I saying most solo female travelers are like this, they aren’t. I’m saying that writers like Gilbert are dangerous in that they distort reality to fit their narrative. All of us writers take creative license but what we shouldn’t do is put our readers in a position where they become more emotionally and economically vulnerable. Same issue I had with The Beach.
And your mass tourism, of which you think is helping people, really is causing more harm than good. Bali is forever changed because of one woman’s selfish journey to fame and fortune. Can anyone honestly say the Bali is better now than it was before that book was released? Doubtful. We all need to be aware of our impact on destinations particularly in third world countries. We create the problems we try to solve. We magnify the already existing problems many countries have.
I’m the last person to say don’t travel to these places. What I’m saying is BE AWARE of why you’re traveling there and what you are looking for. Understand the impact that you have on a place. Despite our best efforts to do good, our actions can be negative.